Napa Valley AVA
Innovation: Consentino Style
For nearly thirty years, Napa Valley’s much discussed Cosentino Winery has served as a benchmark winery for certain types of complex wines that have been much in demand by serious wine drinkers throughout the world.
One amazing thing about the Yountville winery is the fact that it had its origins in California’s Central Valley, more specifically, in the City of Modesto. Born of necessity, Cosentino Winery first reached the consuming public in 1982, with the release of its first 1,200 cases.
“I was working at the time for a small wine distributor in Modesto,” recalled founder Mitch Cosentino, “and my distributor’s owner wanted to produce a limited amount of wine to use as a control label. The odds were against us, since Modesto is the home of Gallo Brothers and everyone in the industry knows how difficult it is to compete with Gallo.”
To be sure, Cosentino Winery became quite successful despite its giant competitor, and eventually moved its operation to Napa Valley where most of its fruit had originated.
“It was really a no brainer for us to move,” Cosentino added. “We were making mostly northern California wines that were earning a whole lot of medals and critical acclaim. I think that most people considered us a Napa Valley entity even before we made the move to Yountville.” Cosentino Winery’s prime location on US Highway 29 (next to the famous Mustard’s Restaurant, arguably Napa Valley’s most recognized spot), brought instant recognition and exposure to the brand and increased growth followed quickly. More accomplishments followed and Cosentino Winery quickly became the darling of wine conscious aficionados that sought various levels of complexity and elegance in their wines. Eventually, the entity became Cosentino Signature Wines, and a decision to take the company public on the London Exchange was made in 2005.
Mitch Cosentino relinquished his management chores at the new company, but remained as its winemaker and figurehead.
“I became part of a company and its board of directors,” Cosentino continued, “and, of course, was subject to the board’s decisions. Time proved some of these decisions were not really beneficial to the company.”
Jump ahead to the present, and in January 2011, a company called Vintage Wine Estates acquired Cosentino Winery. Vintage Wines Estates owns a number of prized Northern California wineries including Girard Winery, Williams Sonoma Winery and Sonoma Coast Vineyards among others. Vintage Wine Estates then rehired Mitch Cosentino to stabilize the brand that currently produces between 30,000 and 40,000 cases per annum.
“I wanted to get back to the basics of what made us successful in the first place,” Cosentino confided. “The wines were still great but the winery’s direction was a bit off center. The Vintage Wine Estates people are all top wine people and are all about making things simple for me and the winery.”
Considering his wines are among the most structurally complex in the entire country, that last statement is a wonderful reflection on Cosentino Winery and Mitch Cosentino himself.
“Things are going back to the way it was in the beginning,” he finalized. “We are taking great fruit and turning it into great wines, it’s as simple as that. Flavor and balance have been my keywords since I started in the business, and that’s the point where I am returning to at this time. The past half-decade has been a bit difficult for everyone concerned, but I am confident of the future for Cosentino Winery.”
Map of the area
Mitch Cosentino -
You won’t find many ‘original' winemakers like Mitch Cosentino who admits his expertise is all self- acquired, mostly from asking numerous questions from quality winemakers. Beginning in the late 1970's Mitch began making small batches of wine that were sold as a premium controlled label from his Modesto-based wine distributorship. He has learned from a great number of significant winemakers and considers the legendary John Parducci of Mendocino as his early mentor. He utilizes winemaking techniques from throughout Northern California, a fact he feels gives him something of an edge on regional winemakers. When the subject of wine academics comes up, Mitch states proudly that he had lectured at five different universities and colleges - and has been paid for all his speaking appearances. Cosentino has also lectured (twice) at the prestigious University of California Davis, America’s premier wine institution.
By using fruit from several regional sources, Cosentino Winery believes it has a distinct advantage over other wineries that must rely on fruit grown on its premises or fruit limited to a specific region. While Napa Valley grapes make up the greater part of Cosentino Winery's production, fruit from other areas (Solano County, for instance) are used to produce the winery's unique portfolio of high quality wines.
And, within the confines of Napa Valley itself, Cosentino Winery selects its fruit from an extremely large number of sub areas including Oak Knoll, Carneros, Pope Valley, Saint Helena, Oakville and Yountville. These areas consist of diverse soils and climates and tend to produce grapes that have different varietal qualities. The results of all this variation are extremely complex wines that are all brought together by the blending talents of the Cosentino Winery winemaking team.
Mitch Cosentino - a True W.I.N.O.
Like many youths of Italian descent, Mitch Cosentino first shared the joys of watered wine at his grandfather's Sunday dinner table. The wines were homemade, but suited the family's needs and provided the family's youth with a pleasant introduction into the world of wine.
It wasn't until Mitch's senior year at Sacramento State that he seriously began taking an interest in wine. Some of his friends were into drinking better wines and Mitch found himself suddenly attracted to the wine industry. His major was broadcasting and communications, but he soon found the job market to be a major hurdle. "It was the mid-1970's,” he recalled. "And I wasn't particularly interested in heading to North Dakota or someplace like that to find a job. There simply weren't that many options open to me.” Cosentino finally settled on a bottom-line salesman's job with a wine distributorship in his hometown of Modesto. He made his first month's numbers and was named the company's general manager only 18 months later.
"The business was tough competing with Gallo in its hometown,” he continued. "But we made it happen. Then our owner decided to begin making some wines as a control brand and the Cosentino label was born.” Since he had no real schooling in wines, Cosentino points to the fact that he asked "literally thousands of questions” of the assorted vintners and winemakers his company either represented or came across during his work. He hung around those he considered the best at their craft, and gleaned enough from their answers to begin making his own wines. He also was part of an extremely active Jerry Meade W.I.N.O. (Wine Investigation for Novices and Oenophiles) chapter who broadened his appreciation of fine wines and better wineries. His sales force visited numerous Napa and Sonoma wineries where Mitch was afforded the opportunity to ask more questions.
"Someone would tell me something about winemaking and I'd go back and try out what I had been told. I also started to realize that winemaking was somewhat regionalized, and that certain areas did things one way and others did it differently. I figured out what worked best for me and that became my wine making ethic.”
As the decade of the 1990's dawned, Mitch Cosentino became the prime mover in what was to become known as the Meritage (rhymes with heritage) Alliance, a grouping of California wineries attempting to promote the use of Bordeaux varietals under a common marketing concept with certain rules and limitations. From an original small group of only 10-12 wineries, the Meritage concept has proven very successful and today enjoys membership of more than 200 wineries that has expanded to a worldwide basis. Along the way, Mitch Cosentino has also had some fun wine projects to enjoy. He teamed with NBA superstar Larry Bird to produce a ‘Legends' wine and also with noted professional golfer Fred Couples to produce wines under Couples' much recognized name. Would the revered winemaker who is turning 59 this year ever consider retiring"
"It's a lot like playing golf,” he explained. "I've never heard of anyone playing a perfect round. It's the same way with me. I'm going to continue to try and find the pinnacle of wine, and make the perfect wine for my customers. Besides, most people retire to the wine business, don't they?” Mitch Cosentino is a rarity in the wine business and is decidedly individualistic in his approach and his specific beliefs. His legions of fans are loyal and dedicated and even his detractors give him the nod for his amazing resilience in the face of adversity.
Simply put, the California Wine Industry is a much better place with the inclusion of Mitch Cosentino.
The Art of Fine Wine
Colle Verde Vineyard Summer was painted by Maryanne Jacobsen who enjoys painting was moves her, motivates her, or mystifies her. In this instance, she captures the stunning colors of a picturesque Tuscan vineyard.